Frank Zappa: Joe's Garage Act I

By Cole Springer

Trouser Press, December 1979

Joe's Garage Act I

Zappa SRZ- 1-1603

Although it is certainly not being hyped as such in this day and age, Joe's Garage is nothing less than a rock opera. It has distinct scenes, a large cast of characters and, best of all, a storyline that is actually easy to follow. The action begins in Joe's Garage, where a Beatie-era band is having a great time learning to play rock'n'roll. From there it moves through an observation of the band members' school and social life ("Catholic Girls") and into the decadent and depressing world of contemporary big bucks rock ("Crew Slut," "Wet T-Shirt Nite").

Zappa narrates his satire in the guise of the Central Scrutinizer, a Big Brother-type figure whose job it is to "enforce all the laws that haven't been passed yet." His monologues are delivered in much the same spirit as the lectures local narcs used to give in high schools, only here the warnings are about music and sex rather than drugs . It's all very tongue-in-cheek, but – lest anyone miss the point – Zappa spells it out in his liner notes : "If the plot seems preposterous, just be glad you don't live in one of the countries where, at this very moment, music is either severely restricted, or, as it is in Iran, totally illegal."

The overall concept is, in the main, well executed, but there are some flaws. The Scrutinizer's monologues become extremely boring after two or three plays, in part due to the flat, metallic monotone in which Zappa performs them. Frank is also guilty of padding out the album with a four-minute guitar jam that is far from his best work, and an overlong (seven minutes) reworking of his old "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up." Finally, the man has once again succumbed to today's loose moral climate (and the freedom of his own record label) and injected the story with plenty of gratuitous sexua l situations and dialogue.

Granted, it's Zappa's perogative and a certain segment of his audience expects it from him, but I can't help recalling his earlier albums, which were witty and sarcastic without resorting to cheap sensationalism.

Still, the title song lyrics are some of his finest ever, and most of the music is strong and exciting. Act II should be out in six months or so, at which time we'll find out what happens to Joe when he joins L. Ron Hoover's First Church of Appliantology.

– Cole Springer